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History of New York State/New York State in American Popular Culture

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New York in Film[edit | edit source]

New York state and its cities have been the subject and location of many films, both literally and fictionally. New York has also been the birth place and home of many famous actors, directors, and other film stars. Famous examples of New York film makers include Woody Allen, Sidney Lumet, Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee. Many of these director's films take place in New York, inspired by the city they love and grew up in.

Martin Scorsese, one of New York City's best-known film directors (2010).

New York has been used in films for many reasons. It is a versatile city, with many atmospheres and endless room for potential. It holds onto people's imaginations because of its endless possibilities: it is compact, violent, energetic and constantly changing. It is unpredictable, unreal, and a “zone of eternal play and perpetual unease.” It is more than the “bustling metropolis” that it is often portrayed as (which holds true to the real life atmosphere of daytime New York.) At night, New York is “more nocturnal than any other place onscreen.” The deserted streets portrayed in New York films are places of violence and danger. These are just a few examples of the kind of atmospheric diversity that is possible when filming in New York.

An early example of New York in film is Skyscrapers of New York City, from the North River (1903). The film provides shots of the city, a view of the waterfront, the crowded and busy city streets, and an “endless chain” of its many unique skyscrapers and other architectural structures. New York has many iconic buildings which have been shot in movies, making their locations easily recognizable. Some iconic New York locations include the Empire State Building (most notably in 1933's King Kong), Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, and, prior to the terrorist bombings of September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center. 9/11 and the Twin Towers would also become popular subjects of film in the 21st century. The documentary World Trade Center, and a scene from Spike Lee's 25th Hour, would both serve as sad reminders of where these buildings once stood.

Because New York is a famous backdrop in many films, viewers associate a feeling of familiarity with the city, whether they have been there or not. New Yorkers would be able to recognize various film scenes located within their city. A number of buildings and also various structures within New York, would be a part of many film's scenery and action. In the 1953 film How to Marry a Millionaire, Fred Clark and Betty Grable spent a scene of the film crossing the George Washington Bridge. Penn Station was also used in the opening shot of the film The Seven Year Itch (1957) starring Marilyn Monroe.

Bethesda Fountain in Central Park (2006).

New York is arguably the best location for filming as it provides a specific atmosphere, unattainable elsewhere. For example, Black Edward's Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) starring Audrey Hepburn, could not have been located in anywhere other than New York, “because in that era-before-franchises Tiffany's was New York just as New York was Tiffany's.” Robert Wise's West Side Story (1961), a modern day adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, is another film in which it is difficult to separate the story from the city. Originally a Broadway musical, deriving its roots from the streets of New York, it is difficult to imagine West Side Story taking place anywhere else. Other notable examples include Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York (2002) and much of the film Goodfellas (1990), also directed by Scorsese.

Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961).

Some films do not go as deeply into the atmosphere and environment of New York. For instance, the New York that Hitchcock portrays in films such as Rear Window (1954), Rope (1949) and North by Northwest (1959) typically stars an eager, but distant outsider who becomes “addicted” to New York on the basis of visits to this city. In this sense, Hitchcock is described as looking at the city from the surface, rather than really digging into its environment. Hitchcock's New York is often an “abstraction, a packaging, [and] a memento” of lived experiences in New York, rather than more casual ones.

For other films, New York would merely serve as a backdrop, and not as much attention would be paid to the specific location of the film. Even so, they may be recognizable to a New Yorker with good knowledge of the city. Woody Allen used many New York locations in his films; however there were times when the location was not the central focus, or even obvious. In Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), the camera “glides past characteristic locales” of New York with little attention paid to the location, focusing more on the protagonists of the film. In Annie Hall (1977), the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park served as scenery for Woody Allen and Diane Keaton's people-watching. Even though such locations would have been strategically chosen, they would not be central to the film's story. The same locations may merely be scenery for one film, but crucial to another film. The Bethesda Fountain, especially with its angel statue, would be both a significant location and symbol, central to Angels in America (2003). At the beginning of the film the statue comes to life, and at the end, it serves as “a symbol of hope for a confused country and world.” Other movies filmed in New York, or set in a fictional version of New York, include: Citizen Kane (1941), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), On the Waterfront (1954), Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Godfather (1972), Taxi Driver (1976), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), Raging Bull (1980), and Ghost Busters (1984).

Television and Film Industry[edit | edit source]

New York’s annual revenue from the film industry amounts to billions of dollars. Beginning in 1919, when famed movie creator D. W. Griffith announced his departure from Los Angeles to take up production in New York. He said, “Here in the East are all the properties and backgrounds, interior and exterior, that we require for luxurious settings. New York is the metropolis and the home of wealth. It is the home of the best actors, the best artisans, the best and the newest in theatrical production.” This idea has resonated through time and can still be said today.

New York City is the largest city in the United States. It is comprised of multiple villages and boroughs, which contain diverse visual settings and cultures that allow film makers to create different types of movies. For example, Manhattan, with its tall buildings and corporate setting, allowed for films like Wall Street and Woody Allen’s Manhattan to be filmed. More residential and cultural areas, like Greenwich Village, played host to films like Taxi Driver and The Godfather trilogy.

New York is home to many well known production companies in the television and film industry. In the television industry, NBC is located at Rockefeller Centre and produces hit shows like 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live. In the film Industry, Miramax Films is located in Manhattan and has produced such films as Gangs of New York and Kate & Leopold. These production companies have multiple reasons why they set up shop in New York. New York and New York City, for instance, offer tax rebates of 15 percent to filmmakers who shoot at least 75 percent of their movies in New York City. New York attracts actors to live close to work, which is why many A-List celebrities call New York home. Some of these celebrities that call New York home include Alec Baldwin, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Tina Fey.

Many shows and films are based in New York because the writers and directors who create them base their shows around their own lives. Many of them also got their start in New York. An example of this is the show How I Met Your Mother. The writer’s and creator’s love of New York, shown through their work, advertise New York to future potential residents. Mayor Giuliani said, “I've talked to people whose decision to come and live here was based on a movie that they saw about New York City. When New York's citizens are frustrated by the large number of movies that are shot here, they really ought to know the facts. Movies help continue New York's reputation as one of the most unique and well known city in the world.” Since New York is so large, it has come to be known as a place where anything can happen. There are many opportunities for people from different backgrounds to connect. It allows far fetched ideas and scenarios to become plausible, which gives film creators a plethora of options and ideas.

Friends apartment building in Greenwich Village, NYC.

Unfortunately, not all films and shows can be shot in New York; however, that does not mean that they can still be set in New York. Sound Stages in Los Angeles are created to look like New York. Shows like Everybody Hates Chris and How I Met Your Mother are filmed in studios like this. Another option is to film in different cities. The hit show Suits is set in New York but filmed in Toronto. Sometimes New York based shows are filmed in Toronto because production costs are far less. New York has a large effect on the TV and film industry around the world, which will always be the case.

Tourism[edit | edit source]

As a result of New York's popularity in film and television, either as a set location or as a subject, the city experiences a great deal of tourism. In fact, film tourism is recognized as a significant force of tourism development for many cities and other destinations. Certain areas in New York have become “metonyms” for lifestyles that are portrayed in television shows and movies. John Urry and Jonas Larsen comment that “we have all been to New York”, while viewing television shows such as Seinfeld, NYPD Blue, Friends, Law and Order and Sex and the City. Representations of New York in media allows people to travel to imaginary destinations, where real places and locations “take on fantasy-like” qualities. These imaginary spaces filled by our favorite television characters may “inhabit our minds just as real locations” would. Greenwich Village (“the Village”) in New York City in particular has attracted a lot of attention of movies, television series and even commercials. Settings in television shows which have been shot in the Village include The Cosby Show townhouse, the NYPD Blue precinct, and the Friends apartment building. However, the Village is not only a popular television series location, but has also been used as a setting in a number of films. For instance, one of neighbourhoods with a public swimming pool was the location of a scene in Scorsese's Raging Bull, where characters Cathy Moriarty and Robert De Niro meet up. Both East 6th Street and MacDougal Street served as locations in The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, respectively. It is of no surprise that New York has attracted an overwhelming amount of tourism following the creation of some of the most well-known and loved films and television shows. The establishment of film festivals in major cities, including New York, have also attracted a great deal of tourism.

New York and Broadway[edit | edit source]

Present day Times Square

Before theatre took its name, Broadway was simply a street in New York City, coined by the Dutch upon their arrival. It was not until the 20th century that theatrical shows in New York City became known as Broadway. The play Broadway to Tokyo, written by Roy Somlyo, which opened on January 23, 1900, coined the term Broadway as it "gracefully executed saltatorial divertissements that codified the Broadway appellation as a signal of the theatrical ideal." Following Broadway to Tokyo, many other writers used the name Broadway in their play titles as “shorthand for the locus of cultural production." Many of the plays that included Broadway in their titles were performed in theatre houses located on the Great White Way in Manhattan. The Great White Way was located on Broadway Boulevard, which is presently known as Times Square. It is here that Broadway theatre became known to New York City.

By the late 1920’s, Broadway plays took a shift in style, structure and thematics. Theatre companies that used to stage popular commercial melodramas were now staging naturalism, realism and modernism. A tragedy written by Eugene O’Neill entitled Beyond the Horizon was credited as the reason that Broadway plays changed. His play "reflected cultural dislocations not only in drama but also in the 1920’s American experience." Two other driving forces that saw changes in Broadway in the 1920’s was the invention of motion picture and the growth of radio. The Depression was a changing force as well and many plays suffered in audience attendance because of it. The early 1920’s nightlife culture was vibrant and people visited theatres every night, came to an end due to the effects of the Depression.

Broadway and Race[edit | edit source]

Broadway in the 1920s and 30s also began to address many important social issues. The most predominant of these social issues included the addressing of racism within America. Show Boat, based on the novel by Edna Ferber under the same name, is regarded as the first musical to deal with issues of racism. Opening on Broadway in 1927, Show Boat is seen as the monumental musical that altered public opinion. The show was able to influence the general public as its increasing popularity had brought the issue of racism to the forefront of public attention. One aspect that contributed to Show Boat’s popularity were the creators of the show. Two of musical theatre’s most esteemed composers came together and collaborated on this musical: Jerome Kern wrote the music and Oscar Hammerstein wrote the lyrics and book. The way in which Show Boat addresses race in a very complicated way, also appealed to American audiences. Race was no longer a one dimensional issue, it was messy and complex, and this appealed to audiences. This was partly achieved by the synthesizing of both white and African American indigenous music. This fusion can be heard in one of the songs from the musical, "Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man".

Soprano opera singer, Ruby Elzy, as the original Serena in George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess (1935)

"Show Boat" was racially empowering as black characters were now displayed as three dimensional, not the one dimensional, stereotypical characters they had previously portrayed. The use of the word ‘nigger’ was also replaced in the musical by the phrase ‘colored folk’ to evolve to racial sensibilities. The use of both black and white characters helped to aesthetically bring the two races together before the very eyes of the spectators. The influence of Show Boat was so immense and empowering to the racial issue that the song "Ol’ Man River" was used in numerous African American protests around the country.

Porgy and Bess, like Show Boat, was another musical which addressed the sensitive issue of race, in a way which was empowering to African Americans. This 1935 musical was written by legendary Broadway composer, George Gershwin and DuBose Hayward. DuBose Hayward was the author of the 1925 novel, Porgy, for which the musical was based upon. Porgy and Bess received much controversy as this musical had been written by a white individual who could never possibly understand the hardships of the African-American life. However, the fact that this musical was created by Gershwin, a popular white composer, contributed to the success of the show. The high popularity of Porgy and Bess allowed it to be viewed and impact a greater number of people. Like Show Boat, the song "I Ain’t Got No Shame", employed the fusion of both African-American and white indigenous music, which audiences greatly enjoyed. Porgy and Bess addressed the general despair and violent nature of life that occurred within black neighborhoods, which helped to educate the predominantly white audience of the struggles that African American citizens faced in the United States.

Broadway and the War[edit | edit source]

During World War Two, Oklahoma!, a musical about a love triangle based in northern Oklahoma, became the most successful play at this time, with over eight million audience members. The opening number, "Oh What a Beautiful Morning", became one of the many musical hits that Oklahoma! performed. Oklahoma! created excitement for new beginnings and a hopeful mindset during the war. Because of the war, the song also encouraged the audience to relax and have fun, and to enjoy a couple of hours of fun.

Post World War II Broadway[edit | edit source]

After World War Two, Off-Broadway plays appeared as an alternative to Broadway theatres in Times Square. These plays got their title because they were not performed on the Great White Way in Times Square, but in theatre houses located in other parts of New York City. Off-Broadway plays produced shows which could not been seen on Broadway, and tickets were cheaper as well, making them more appealing to general audiences.

The 1970s and 1980s saw a change in Broadway musicals. Instead of a romanticized version of American life, musicals now portrayed a real world with real problems. These two decades changed the Broadway musical as they became more relatable to everyday American life. This change occurred because the country and culture had changed as well. Musicals such as Follies, directed by Harold Prince and Michael Bennett, portrayed the illusion of the glamorous American dream verses ordinary American lifestyle.

Following the attacks on September 11th 2001, Broadway saw a loss of 16.3 million dollars in 2002. Theatrical entertainment in New York City declined. Audiences felt guilty being entertained while others in the city were grieving. Many commercial theatres started to perform plays centered around the war on terror, and the anger that it created. Most plays were antiwar, which became known as political theatre. Plays such as Warriors, written by Michael Garneau, which examined the way that advertising sells war, and The Women of Lockerbie written by Deborah Breevort which focused on the events of 9/11. Broadway today sees many famous Hollywood actors taking its stages in order to produce a higher revenue. Today, the typical run of a show depends on audience reception and critical response. Many shows are celebrated and honored at the annual Tony Awards. Established in 1947, The Tony's recognize the outstanding achievements of on and Off-Broadway shows.

Alternative Dressing and Performance Scene[edit | edit source]

Ball Culture[edit | edit source]


Immensely popular on the New York scene in the 1980s and early 1990s were gay balls, houses of extravagance, avant garde fashion, and acceptance. Performers could walk the ‘runway’ and win trophies, becoming famous within the ball circle. The balls were a place where people could belong; it was described as being in a personal fantasy of what it would be like to be a superstar. And, for many who participated in the balls, it was a place to have a warm shelter to forget the fact that they had no homes to go to, or no acceptance within their own families. In the award-winning, 1990 documentary film Paris Is Burning, which chronicles the ball culture of New York, one of the ballgoers interviewed described the ball scene as being like "crossing into the Looking Glass. Wonderland. You go in there and you feel—you feel a hundred percent... right. Being gay." He goes on to say, “It’s not what it’s like in the world. It should be like that in the world.”

For those ‘walking’ at a ball, there were many categories of dress to choose from, including drag queens, movie stars, models, ‘luscious body’, ‘town and country’, ‘executive realness’, ‘ ‘high fashion evening wear’, and also more serious-toned outfits, such as military uniforms. The balls gave the LBGT community the opportunity to become anything or anyone, without people questioning it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78TAbjx43rk The trailer for the film, Paris is Burning.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWuzfIeTFAQ The film, Paris is Burning.

Voguing[edit | edit source]

Lady Gaga

In the early 1990s, the biggest dance fad was a style called ‘Voguing’. It began as an alternative to fighting with someone in one of the balls. If two people found themselves in conflict, they would dance around each other and battle it out through dance moves instead of actually fighting. As described in Paris Is Burning, "Voguing is the same thing as, like, taking two knives and cutting each other up, but through dance form." The movements of the dance style were pantomime, taking inspiration from gymnastics and Egyptian hieroglyphics; the idea was to strive for perfect lines in the body, while in awkward positioning. The name ‘Voguing’ was taken from the magazine Vogue, because some of the dance moves were based off of model poses in the magazine. Madonna used this style in her famous music video for her song, ‘Vogue’.

Modern Alternative Scene[edit | edit source]

In the late 1980's when the movie Paris Is Burning was filmed, the gay balls were a safe place for the LBGT community. They were still being persecuted and targeted even though New-York society was generally more accepting. As noted in the film, “When you’re a man and a woman, you can do anything. You can—you can almost have sex on the street if you want to. [...] But when you’re gay, you monitor everything that you do. You monitor how you look, dress; how you talk, how you act; do they see me? What do they think of me?” There was almost a sense of having to hide away. Now, the LBGT community is anything but hidden. Artists over the years, from Madonna to Lady Gaga, fearlessly express themselves through manners reminiscent of the 80s/90s avant garde scene. Certainly Gaga, a New-York native, found influences in her daily life, as the once-hidden expressions of the LBGT began to emerge more obviously. Gaga’s “distinct aesthetic” is described by some as a “social imaginary that upholds much of Warhol’s Pop Art vision” and an “active quest to produce the memorable and celebrate the freakish." Now, the "mass appeal and subcultural allure of the aesthetic crafted by Gaga and her ‘‘Haus of Gaga’’ creative team, which she modeled after Warhol’s Factory,” is also reminiscent of the Gay Balls, in that they were held in a ‘House’ named after the ‘Mother’ running it. From this, it is easy to see where the self-styled Mother Monster drew inspiration for her Haus of Gaga. It is a mark of just how far things have come in a few short decades, where the LBGT community was virtually hidden away in ball Houses, to being strongly expressed in modern music. Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation was created for the purpose of keeping it this way: to give young people, as Oprah Winfrey put it, “A big, Lady Gaga boost, teaching them to be fearless and free in their own skin.” Gaga herself, when asked what message she most wants people to receive from her, said, "I want them to free themselves and I want them to be proud of who they are, and I want them to celebrate all the things they don't like about themselves the way that I did."

New York: The Birthplace of Comic Books and Superheroes[edit | edit source]

Comic book creator Stan Lee and Captain America star Chris Evans (2011)

New York has not only served as the birthplace of the American comic book, but also the birthplace of many American superheroes and villains. In 1933, the American comic book was invented. The original comic books were bound reprints of comic strips from newspapers and premiums attached to children’s products, cheaply repackaged for resale. The first superhero comic book that featured Superman was published by National Periodical (now known as DC Comics) in 1938. The Empire State Building was the 1940s headquarters of their rival, Timely Comics (which is now known as Marvel Comics). A rival that continues to this day between comic book lovers. New York City became a hub for American comic book artists. These artists helped establish the popularization and subsequent economic success of New York’s two superhero comic book empires, Marvel and DC.

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg posing with Spider-Man at Midtown Comics (2010)

Acting as the diverse urban backdrop for the fears and desires that reflect a society constantly undergoing massive cultural shifts, New York City is the archetypical metropolis in U.S. pop culture. Many American comic book artists attributed recognizable New York addresses (sometimes inspired by the places they had once lived), buildings, and tourist attractions to the stories they created. Spider-Man, otherwise known as Peter Parker, lived with his Aunt May in Forest Hill, Queens. The Baxter Building, a fictitious complex and the long-time headquarters of the Fantastic Four, was located at Madison and 42nd. Comic book writer-artist Bill Everett lived at 177A Bleecker Street in the sixties, the location later used by fellow writer Roy Thomas as the address for Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. The Frick Collection was used as the Avengers Mansion – the original headquarters of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. The Perisphere, built for the New York 1939 World's Fair, functioned as the fictional headquarters for the DC superhero collective, the All-Star Squadron. Even when not explicitly mentioned, Batman’s home Gotham City is modeled after New York City (Gotham is a common nickname for New York). Marvel chairman and one of the co-creators of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, Stan Lee said about his comics: “The stories were our tribute to the Big Apple.”

The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment took advantage of the city’s connections to superheroes as a creative way of implementing new ways of informing New Yorkers on how to navigate the job market. It was unveiled on November 17, 2010 that Mayor Bloomberg had teamed up with Marvel Comics to create Spider-Man, You’re Hired: “a special print and digital comic promoting New York City’s free job placement resources,” available for free to the New York public. The full-color, eight page comic illustrates an out-of-work Peter Parker who has a chance meeting with Mayor Bloomberg, the man who gives him a helpful push in finding a job. The comic was printed in a special edition of The New York Daily News, has been made available in all Workforce 1 Centers in the City, has appeared in over 600,000 papers, and is available for free download online via iTunes. Alongside the featured comic, two additional one-page comics were also launched. The first features Spider-Man at various New York City attractions describing the great free job services available to citizens. The second features Spider-Man’s friend Mary Jane who learns about Made in NY, “a free program [that] helps diverse New Yorkers gain access to entry level positions in the entertainment industry.”

New York State in Music[edit | edit source]

New York's Hip Hop Scene[edit | edit source]

New York can be considered the hip hop music capital of the world. Hip hop as a subculture of New York was born in the poor black neighbourhoods, extending into the South Bronx. In the 1970s there was a drastic cut in available employment when 40% (about 600,000) of jobs within the manufacturing sector disappeared. Many people were left unemployed and living well below the poverty line. The community was poor and segregated. Youth found an outlet and a voice in the form of rapping, beat boxing, graffiti art and break-dancing, all significant artistic aspects of hip hop. These art forms permeated outside of New York City and rap music went main-stream in the late 1980s because it spoke to so many youth in a way they could relate to. Rap music incorporates soul and funk music combined with new rhythms and beats. Hip Hop displayed the call and response patterns of African American religious ceremonies in an early rap form that was most commonly portrayed through church preaching. Along with the new sound was the incorporation of powerful political views reflected in the lyrics of hip hop. In the 1980s rap music reflected the inequality that the black communities faced and the discrimination young black people continued to face.

"Ghetto 4 Life" Banksy in South Bronx October 2013

Artists like Run DMC, Slick Rick, Wu-Tang Clan, EPMD, LL Cool J and Public Enemy were behind the success of New York's hip hop scene. In 1994, Brooklyn born Biggie Smalls released his 4 times platinum record "Ready to Die". The popularity of the record increased New York’s credibility in the hip hop scene once again and helped to create a clear distinction between east and west coast hip hop. New York in the present day is still home to a thriving underground hip hop scene as well as being the home of many popular artists like Nicki Minaj and ASAP Rocky. Modern New York is brimming with hip hop clubs and concerts where the scene is still progressing.

New York's Punk Scene[edit | edit source]

The first 'punk counterculture' was developed in the early 1970s in New York. Punk politics cover a whole spectrum of social issues. Originally, young, middle-class youth developed the culture based on ideas of personal freedom from defining one’s self and anti-establishment views. There are many sub-cultures of punk and many types of punk music, visual art and literature to accompany these sub-cultures. A particular theatrical punk fashion was the product of need for self-expression, an element that makes punks distinguishable. Punk music was the key element in the punk counterculture, as it was the predominant way in which youth were able to create their own unique identities. From 1973 when it opened through the 80s, the famous club CBGB, located in Manhattan, New York, was the heart of punk culture and music. Artists like The Ramones and Blondie first played at the club and, as a result, they significantly grew in popularity. The peak of the club’s popularity was 1975 when punk shows were televised every Sunday giving punk music a popular platform. Punk music and style evolved in the 21st century as the main philosophies remained and the style and music changed to fit a new generation’s taste.

New York's Disco Scene[edit | edit source]

Emerging from the deep southern states of the United States, the rise of disco was a collaborative form of pop culture that hit the club scene with a burst of energy and exuberance. The 1970’s were a time of innovation and rejuvenation of the music scene, and disco was a more than appropriate candidate to take on the challenge of creating this change. Disco had been heard on the radio and through the ears of the public prior to its debut in the 70’s, however, it was segmented and broken up within different genres that had yet to come together to produce this new melody of music. The combination of jazz, R&B, funk, and rock is what disco music was comprised of.

Disco music grew to extreme popularity in the 1970s out of the New York nightclub scene. The 70s were a time when young people were worried about themselves, and the dance music was about the freedom to be yourself. Disco was appealing in 1970s American society because it was a way to escape or ignore changes that came with mass sub-urbanization, economic turmoil and conservative attitudes of the decade. People caught onto the music style, the clubs and the fashion because of the popular New York nightclub Studio 54 which was open from 1977 to 1981. By 1976 there were reportedly 10,000 discos in the U.S. There were discos for kids, senior citizens, roller-skaters, and portable discos set up in shopping malls. The 1977 film Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta was a huge hit and was accompanied by a widely popular soundtrack that brought disco into the mainstream commercial marketplace. In 1976 usually 5 out of 10 singles on Billboard’s weekly charts were disco. Unsurprisingly, rock stars, punk stars, and superstars all started “going disco.” Rod Stewart’s "Do Ya Think I’m Sexy", The Rolling Stones groovy hit "Miss You" and Blondie broke out of New York’s CBGB with a chart-topping single "Heart of Glass." Disco culture and the dance music it was based upon united people from all social and economic backgrounds. It was this inclusiveness that made disco so popular.

Culture Change of Disco[edit | edit source]

Not only was disco a newfound staple in the music industry, but the social impact of the music hit New York hard and fast with cultural change. Disco had brought the title of the “golden age” to radio diversity. Disco was becoming popular in all races, ages, classes, and gender divisions across the New York state. Popular clubs such as Othello’s, Justine’s, and Mellon’s were creating strong community connections within the disco industry. Initially, disco was said to only be targeted at a white demographic, however, the spread of disco became popular in varying races such as Blacks, Latinos, and Italians. Providing a wider demographic in New York for this emerging social phenomenon, disco was a common medium that brought people together. Disco was also becoming widely popular in other diverse nightclubs within New York such as gay discos, fashion trend discos, 'new wave' discos, and hip hop discos, providing an intense demand for the role of a disc jockey or DJ.

Legendary disco singer, Donna Summer (1977)

Emergence of the Disco Disc Jockey[edit | edit source]

The role of the DJ was honourable and dignified at the time of the rise of disco in New York. In order to be an established DJ you must have consolidated a certain degree of trust, love, and loyalty within the disco world. It wasn’t just a fad or hobby to be a DJ at the time of disco in New York, but instead a lifestyle. One would dedicate all the money they had into improving or upgrading to an appropriate sound system in order to produce the highest quality of music. This would also be a test to whether or not you were at an honourable level to play in the higher quality clubs in New York such as the Mudd Club, the Roxy and the Fun House.

Disco in Dance[edit | edit source]

In addition to the impact on the club and music industry in New York during the 70’s, this new music took on the role of changing the dance scene as well. Prior to the influence of disco, dance was focused on the tradition of men leading women in a structured dance such as the tango or the waltz. The dance disco was still paired in a male-female partnership, however it was co-dependent rather than the male leading the entire dance. Disco was a dance that consisted of control and emphasis, which was put on connecting with your partner through sight and one-way manipulation. Creating a new form of expression, disco can be seen as an influence in many other types of dance such as aerobic dancing, through its expression of focus, controlled movements, and explicit technique.

With inspirational disco singers such as Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, and Barry White, the introduction of disco within New York became more than just a trend or fad of the 70s. Disco was a movement that shaped culture, changed mindsets, and created an everlasting impression on the music industry, dance industry, and social standings of people from all across the state. Continuing into today’s current music stream, disco is without a doubt, definitely not dead.

Woodstock[edit | edit source]

The guitar used by Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock to play the Star Spangled Banner (featured here at the Experience Music Project in Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2009)

From August 15th to 18th, 1969 the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair was held. An estimated 450,000 young music lovers converged in rural New York State. Woodstock is known as the iconic cultural event that defined the 1960’s. The event was so popular that it resulted in the most famous traffic jam in New York's history as fans amassed in Bethel, New York to witness an unprecedented rock extravaganza. Promoters introduced the event as an “Aquarian exposition” and “three days of peace and music.” The Woodstock Festival did not take place in Woodstock, New York, but rather the name came from the location of the organizers’ headquarters. Instead it took place nearly sixty miles away in Bethel, on Max Yasgur’s farm. Although receiving much criticism, Max Yasgur, a dairy farmer, allowed his 600 acres of farmland to be used as the festival grounds. Yagur said he offered his land in order to help close a generational gap as well as garnish a fee of $50,000.

Hippies at Woodstock Music and Arts Fair

Artists of Woodstock[edit | edit source]

Music at the festival ranged from folk to psychedelic to rock and roll. Day one of the event included acts such Arlo Guthrie and Joan Baez, while day two included The Grateful Dead, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, The Band and Jimi Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix is often cited as being one of the most memorable components of the festival. The festival was interrupted by rain throughout the weekend and many acts were delayed as a result. Amplifiers and other electronics had to be covered in order to avoid damage to equipment. A large proportion of the audience stayed either greeting the rain or having parked too far to return to dryness. This all added to the adversity facing the concert-goers, as food supplies were often not adequate as well as other logistical inefficiencies the concert promoters had not accounted for.

The Impact of Woodstock[edit | edit source]

A group of teenagers on the last day of Woodstock (1969)

Woodstock has become a symbol of the culmination of change in the American 1960’s. The 1960’s were about passing the torch from the pre-World War II generation to the baby boomers that had grown up very differently than their parents. This youth movement had grown from affluence, education and Rock and Roll. More so Woodstock also served as a chief vehicle of 1960’s counter culture and was a mark of 1960’s youth rebellion. This counter cultural movement was known as the hippie movement. This movement was a product of those who could not grapple with consumerism and the procurement of material wealth. The hippies in a sense inverted traditional values and rather than striving for upward mobility, often lived in voluntary poverty as they were more concerned with the relationship between body and mind. Hippies often wished for peace and harmony and saw property and prejudice as barriers to this lifestyle. The hippie culture also embraced and glorified drug use and sexual freedom.

Grateful Dead (1970)

The Woodstock festival also acted as a sign of dissent amongst youth against American involvement in the Vietnamese War. The performers and audience demonstrated unrelenting criticism of the war. Their protest was conveyed through peaceful living and promoting harmony.

Another concert in December of the same year would mark an end to the hippie counter culture movement. The Altamont Speedway Free Festival was headlined by the Rolling Stones. The festival resulted in the death of several concertgoers, which was quite the opposite to the atmosphere of peace and love displayed at The Woodstock Festival. Ang Lee, famed director of the film "Taking Woodstock", has been quoted as calling Woodstock ”America's last moment of innocence.” This statement holds truer when Woodstock is compared to its Western counterpart Altamont.

One of the most notable homages to the festival comes from Joni Mitchell who wrote the song “Woodstock.” Mitchell had been unable to attend the concert as she was scheduled to appear on The Dick Cavett Show that very weekend. However, her song is the one that most embodies the spirit of Woodstock.